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Time Travel Explained June 28th, 2011 posted by: to Addiction Treatment

Assisting a client, who is repeatedly relapsing can pose a good many professional challenges. Traditional recovery wisdom suggests that the “all addicts relapse for exactly the same reason – to change the way that they feel.” When we are helping clients to build strategies for interrupting a relapse process they find it helpful to understand the dynamics associated with Time Travel that serve to intensify their feelings of discomfort and destabilize their sobriety.

Time Travel refers to an emotional stressor that can occur on the road to relapse into active addiction in which uncomfortable emotions are intensified by previous life experiences. When time travel occurs it will diminish a client’s ability to cope with the challenges of present day situations or relationships.

The notion that one’s feelings never know what time it is, is more than a light-hearted reference to the tendency for us to feel bombarded by the emotional memories of prior life experiences. Feeling memories of the past can flood current reality and generate or reinforce your client’s perception that a trusted friend or loved one is trying to hurt him or her.

A Time Travel experience is an emotional flashback. During Time Traveling your clients are emotionally reacting to a present life situation or event as it if contained the elements of an earlier time in his or her life. The emotional flashbacks, that occur during Time Travel might cause your clients to view the behavior of someone in their current experience as being more than just “similar” to the actions of someone from their past. If your client is Time Traveling, he or she could react to a person, in present time, as if the person was the individual that they had actually struggled with in past. A Time Traveler will imagine that a spouse is their mother or that a friend is an enemy from the past. Additionally, feelings from one’s past seem to influence the physical reaction they are having to a present day stressor. In the midst of a quiet disagreement with someone, we can begin to feel physically threatened and develop a sense of danger, which is actually rooted in some past memory having nothing to do with the person we are frightened of. The memories of physical threat that we feel can cause us to view someone as dangerous when in fact they do not pose any real threat to us in the moment.

Feeling memories are more readily accessible to us than the factual details of the events that are related to the flashback recall we are experiencing. The visual memories or pictures of the events in question can be the most difficult to retrieve. This phenomenon is particularly disheartening for many of us because we tend to mistrust our feeling memories and require picture proof of the authenticity of the feelings we are having or a living witness to the event to testify to the validity of our feelings. When the barrage of feeling memories is positive, like the anticipation of returning to a favorite vacation spot, the round-trip journey from present to past is a pleasurable one. It is unlikely that others will be hurt or feel rejected by our euphoric recall related to an enjoyable vacation experience even when packing and commuting hassles were lost in the recall processes. When the journey from past to present is unpleasant it generates dysphoric recall. Dysphoric recall can precipitate or exacerbate a sense of being in danger or unsafe. It is important that each of us learns to detect when Time Travel is negatively influencing our perception of reality.

The preceding excerpt is a partial description of the one of the seven phases of relapse described in Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention that will soon be released by LCCS. The task-orientated course in relapse prevention is well suited for use with individual clients and small group workshops or intensives. For information about advance order discounts please contact us by email: or phone by calling 732-797-1444.

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